GREEN MINDED: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today

The recent rift within the Duterte administration with regard to rice importation is more revealing, that until now for almost one year in power the current administration was unable to craft a unified plan in dealing the country’s staple. While it is true that rice importation in the context of trade liberalization should be banned, and rice cartels should be busted, there is also a need to carefully prepare the foundations to achieve rice self-sufficiency.


But how can we achieve rice sufficiency when our lands and crops were being converted and farmers were being displaced?


Last month Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations (REAP) Mindanao network held a Mindanao-wide forum-consultation on the expansion of the palm oil industry in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato. Farmers, plantation workers, and advocates from the five regions of Mindanao actively participated during the forum-consultation.


According to the Palm-Oil Industry Road Map, palm-oil is very promising for Philippine agriculture. It recognizes the strengths of the industry as it has available “production technologies” and “best practices” that can be adopted so as there are research and academic institutions that are capable of conducting researches. Also for the proponents, they consider the “availability of low-cost labor for palm-oil farm activities” as strength.


Another generic promise is that it will “generate employment” and “provide livelihood” just like any other agri-business plantation’s promise. But if we are going to look closer on these promises we can foretell that these means dooms day for the Filipino farmers and farmworkers. As the proponents consider low-cost labor as strength, which will translate to cheap labor, like what is happening in existing palm-oil plantations and other plantations. They call this as “pakyawan” system which in its very essence cheapens labor, way below the minimum wage and many ways below the living wage.


In less than a decade the palm-oil industry road map also aims to convert 1,000, 000 hectares of agricultural land and ancestral domains to palm-oil plantations by 2025. Based on their target 98% of the 1 million hectares will be placed in Mindanao, 39% of which will be in CARAGA region. In Palawan, 100, 000 hectares of tribal lands were targeted too.


Now, people in communities that already witnessed the ill-impacts of oil-palm plantations started to resist like in Misamis Oriental, Agusan Del Sur, and Bukidnon. People witnessed how deceptive these land lease scheme and agri-venture agreements. Companies promised an annual rental from P5, 000 to P15, 000 per hectare but for most of them to no avail. People’s resistance were countered by violence from private goons and military.


In the same road map, the proponents consider “unstable peace and order” as threats to the industry, situation. People’s resistance can be classified as part of the “unstable peace and order” situation and more often, militarization or paramilitary forces were being installed to suppress people’s resistance and this translates to gross human rights violations of civilian communities.


If we are going to look in a much broader context, the expansion of the Palm-oil industry came after when palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia became infamous and being criticized by the locals there especially the communities that were affected by the 2015 forest fires. They are bringing palm-oil plantations in the Philippines because people in other parts of the world resisted these environmentally destructive plantations.


While it is true that the Palm oil Industry Road Map was in place during the Aquino administration, long before Duterte took power. But for almost a year in power, the current administration continue to implement this ill-advised plan. It is very ironic for the current administration to dream of achieving food security or at the very least achieve rice sufficiency while they continue to implement unscrupulous policies of the past administration.


There is a great need for the current administration, in particular, the Department of Agriculture to provide a comprehensive plan for addressing the food insecurity in the country. Secretary Pinol should learn to talk less and plan more. The first step to address this is to review and revoke all existing cash-crop industry plans, scrap the Palm-Oil Industry Road Map. Immediately suspend all agri-business plantation expansion, land and crop conversion.


At the end of the day, if we look forward to a self-sufficient agriculture, we must have a sufficient plan that is rooted from our farmers. It should be a farmer and people-centered agriculture plan.

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